Swiss tourism in the age of climate change vulnerability, adaptive capacity, and barriers to adaptation

This thesis analyses the impacts of climate change on Swiss tourism. It looks in particular at the regional vulnerability, adaptation, and barriers that hinder this process. The final goal of the work is to make a contribution in bringing about a smoother shift to a more sustainable tourism sector better adapted to the changing conditions. In the first part, the thesis examines the regional vulnerability of Swiss tourism to climate change for a 2030-2050 time horizon in order to define which regions are most in need of taking action. We analyzed in particular the impacts generated by changes in climate suitability for tourism activities, snowpack reduction, glaciers melting, permafrost melting, natural hazards, water scarcity, and changes in landscape and scenic beauty. We selected 70 indicators describing the exposure, the sensitivity and the adaptive capacity of each of the 85 defined areas. We collected, weighted and assembled simulations on the possible impacts and statistical data covering the whole country. The results obtained allowed us to identify the most important drivers influencing vulnerability. Moreover, they permitted the assessment of spatial heterogeneity in vulnerability. Finally, the data allowed us to identify hotspots, areas in which the implementation of adaptation measures is most crucial. To validate the legitimacy of the results and to analyze the perception of people working in the sector, we compared outcomes with the results of an online survey we designed. It was carried out among 566 Swiss tourism stakeholders and asked them to evaluate the vulnerability of their particular region. Differences between the two methods appeared: the outcome of the survey indicated that those living mainly in the Prealpine regions perceived their regions as the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, the outcomes of the geographic “hotspot” analysis showed that the mountainous regions, mostly in the Valais, Ticino, and Uri cantons, were the most vulnerable. Differences may be explained on one hand from the predisposition of stakeholders to be influenced by impacts already visible like snowpack reduction. Therefore, they might be more likely to identify the most vulnerable regions as the ones in which climate change is already affecting the tourism sector. On the other hand, dissimilarities also depend on the scores given by the 13 experts which weighted the various indicators used in the vulnerability map. In the second part of the thesis, we examined adaptation. We analyzed in particular which measures are already being implemented or have already been planned for the future. We also looked at how stakeholders evaluate the efficiency of these measures. Our analysis suggested that adaptation is already taking place in the country. Three categories of adaptation exist. These can be summarized as following: development of the supply, risk reduction, and communication on impacts and on implemented measures. The development of the supply can be seen both as the promotion of year-round tourism, in addition to innovation and diversification of tourism activities offered. It could also include the further development and securing of snow sports activities. The maintenance of winter tourism was a popular option in the past, with the wide spreading of snow cannons. Now, however, this strategy is beginning to show its economic and environmental limits in multiple regions. Various stakeholders in the online survey cited artificial snowmaking as efficient measures only on the short term that should be replaced by other strategies on the long run. Consequently more and more regions are focusing on diversification and innovation, putting more effort in offering year-round tourism. Our results confirm outcomes of past studies on the topic, which found similar results. Moreover, in collaboration with the ClimAlpTour project, we carried out a participative adaptation process in a selected case study region (the Aletsch region). We did this in order to study possible adaptation paths and to analyze possible impediments to the process. Finally, the last part of the thesis looked more in particular at this latter aspect, focusing on barriers to adaptation. Many elements can hinder the implementation of effective and efficient adaptation. These can have either economic, technological, social, or institutional origins. Based on stakeholders’ opinions, we saw that, for Swiss tourism, the barriers relate mainly to economic and social issues. The lack of money can clearly be an impediment to adaptation; also in addition to this, however, we found that the lack of information and coordination among stakeholders can also seriously hinder the process. This even if the willingness to act in order to adapt is high among stakeholders and the acceptability of the measures is important among the population (up to a point to which measures do not lead to maladaptation and that they do not carry too many negative impacts on the society, economy, and environment). Much is already being done at the Swiss national and local levels to combat the impacts of climate change in the country, in particular with the elaboration of the Swiss adaptation strategy. The groundwork for an effective transition of Swiss tourism seems therefore to have been laid. However, it should not be forgotten that the sector is facing many other challenges not directly linked to climate change and which also threaten the viability of the sector. Moreover, due to its significant footprint on the environment and its contribution to greenhouse gasses emission, the sector also needs to incorporate sustanaiblity in its adjustment and change.

Thalmann, Philippe
Lausanne, EPFL
Other identifiers:
urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-epfl-thesis5506-8

 Record created 2012-12-05, last modified 2018-03-17

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